Swinging into 2009 on a ‘high note’, STPI’s new exhibition, Wilson Shieh’s Music Families springs to life in a symphony of vibrant colours in his portrayals of human figures as delicate instruments of music. This body of work revives ukiyo-e practice in Shieh’s contemporary subject matter and employs STPI’s printmaking expertise – making this collaboration, a feat of technical virtuosity.
Ukiyo-e’s international appeal is not new; it was a source of inspiration for many Impressionist and Post-impressionist painters, notably Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Édouard Manet. They were especially drawn to the compositional freedom of placing the subject off-centre, simplicity of line-work and flat graphic areas of strong colours. Vincent van Gogh’s The Bridge in the Rain (1887) was painted after Utagawa Hiroshige, a virtuoso example of the 19th century Master printmaker work, which van Gogh had in his collection.
Shieh paints in 17th century Ming Dynasty Gongbi style, a technique of super fine and controlled brushstrokes acquired while studying Masters of Fine Art at the Chinese University of Hong Kong that later applied to his contemporary themes. STPI Chief Printer, Eitaro Ogawa found Shieh’s meticulous brushwork and humour similar to ukiyo-e. “I found a unified spirit in Shieh’s art and ukiyo-e, he spends considerable time and concentration to draw the line just like it takes to carve a precise line in a ukiyo-e woodblock,” says Ogawa. Starting 2007, Shieh and Shoichi Kitamura (ukiyo-e woodblock carver especially engaged for this project) had been mailing sketches and print samples to and fro Hong Kong and Japan over a period of almost 12 months, they finally met in July 2008 at STPI with Ogawa to execute the actual prints.
Ukiyo-e historical associations with sensuality underline Shieh’s carefully arranged bare figures resembling musical instruments. The Music Families series conveys the physical and spiritual process of music making. The characters quirky acts–––men contorting into lutes, violins, double basses and harps, women plucking serenely at delicate musical strings, and children in whimsical hosiery playing mini cymbals and drums–––elicit curiosity and mesmerise like musical oeuvres.